Each month we will be helping you get to know our partners and their projects a little better with our Partner Spotlight posts. The first in our Education series is our super cool partner, Empower Playgrounds. They are based in Ghana and harness kinetic energy from school playgrounds to power LED lamps, which the children can then take home after school to study. Told you they were cool. We caught up with them, shot them a few questions, and here’s what they had to say about who they are, what they do, and why you should get involved in our Give Together program and donate to their project.
What is the inspiration behind your organization?
The inspiration behind Empower Playgrounds is that there is energy all around us, everyday, and if captured, this energy can empower tomorrow’s leaders and light their way towards achieving their fullest potentials.
What’s the story behind your project?
Empower Playgrounds Inc (EPI) was started after our founder, Ben Markham, and his wife, Julie, who lived in Ghana for 18 months as humanitarian missionaries. While here, Ben often held meetings in rural school houses and noticed how dark it got early in the evenings and wondered how students were able to study or read in their homes with such conditions. He was also struck by the simplicity of play equipment available to children, usually nothing more than old bike tires and tin cans that would be turned into rudimentary cars. Ben decided to try and solve both of these problems and developed the electricity-generating merry-go-round we use today.
How did you become connected with Jolkona
EPI’s executive director, Chris Cannon, was in Seattle visiting NGOs and social ventures with a group of MPA students from Brigham Young University when he learned about the innovative fundraising and advocacy work Jolkona was doing. And after talking with Nadia he quickly decided that this was a partnership worth pursuing and that he hoped would help EPI fulfill its mission of providing the light of opportunity to students of Ghana.
Can you tell us a bit more about your project and how it’s going currently?
Empower Playgrounds is currently operating in nearly 40 schools, providing light to over 6,000 students in some of Ghana’s most deprived areas. We continue to gain support from individuals concerned about the quality of education students are receiving in these deprived areas and by groups working to provide similar opportunities. We are hopeful that this year will see wider expansion, both within Ghana and to similar countries, as we gain more momentum and work with a tried and tested system and wonderful corporate partners like Goal Zero and Playworld Systems, Inc.
What kind of lasting change does the project hope to engender?
Our vision for the future is to have educated parents, especially mothers, in every village who will instill a love of learning in their children. This next generation of children will be much better suited to tackle the generational triggers of poverty and inequality that we as outsiders are often unable to define or solve. We are beginning to see this change take place in some of our earliest schools in the form of increased school completion, attendance, and national test scores.
So say I give $50 to the project, can you explain a little further the impact that is achieved?
For $50 you provide a group of students a portable LED lantern powered by play! This lantern will provide 40 hours of reading and study time with each charge and is expected to last around 5 years, meaning that they are ensured the light of opportunity for just $10 per year!
We love stories at Jolkona. Do you have a favorite impact story you can share?
One of our students, Gabriel, is just one example of how hard students are working to rise above adverse conditions and better themselves in order to better their communities. At 16 Gabriel is the oldest student in his 6th grade class, towering above his classmates and even some of his teachers, however his meek demeanor shines in his bright eyes and constantly beaming smile. This same smile is somewhat out of place when he starts talking about his life and the conditions he struggles with everyday.
He has lived alone in the tiny village of Terhey for several years after his parents moved away to look for work, taking with them his younger siblings. His weekends and evenings are spent doing odd jobs in order to provide for himself: cutting wood for charcoal, helping local farmers, fixing bicycles. And what he earns from these odd jobs he often sends to his siblings so they can buy books and pay for school uniforms, leaving himself to rely on the generosity of his favorite teacher.
Gabriel is now in middle school, still older than his classmates but at least now the same height, and well on his way towards High School. He is a success in the village of Terhey because he is a trendsetter in a community that often sees little use for school and its postponed payoff when so many competing needs have such immediacy. He is one of the lights shining in darkness that makes Ghana such a trailblazer in West Africa.
Such a great story. So, in a nutshell, why should someone give to this project?
With so many organizations and nonprofits doing good things, it’s often hard to choose between so many good options. At EPI we strive to be among the best. We do this by maintaining focus on a single cause – one that we feel is at the root of so many other problems.
With a generation of educated people Ghana will be filled with home-grown solvers and thinkers who can tackle the difficult problems that plague so many developing countries, resulting in long-lasting and effective change that will benefit the world.